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John Schuhmann

Rajon Rondo's aggressiveness on offense is one of 10 key factors for the NBA Finals.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Ten things that will shape the outcome of the NBA Finals

Posted Jun 1 2010 11:46AM

When it comes to winning traditions in the NBA, no teams come close to the Celtics and Lakers.

Boston and Minneapolis/Los Angeles have combined for more championships than the rest of the NBA. But tradition had nothing to do with the the Celtics and Lakers getting to the 2010 Finals.

We've already given you a full preview (and prediction). But before the Celtics and Lakers go at it in the Finals for the 12th time, we need to go deeper inside the numbers.

Here are 10 pieces of statistical knowledge to prepare you for Game 1 on Thursday.

Note: All per-possession stats below are based on an estimate (Possessions = FGA + (.44*FTA) + TO -- Off. Reb.), unless otherwise noted.

1. Where's L.A.'s offense?

One of the under-acknowledged stories of the regular season was just how mediocre the Lakers' offense was. Though they were loaded with talent, they ranked just 11th offensively, scoring 105.9 points per 100 possessions. That was the lowest they had ever been ranked over the course of Kobe Bryant's 14-year career.

In the first round against Oklahoma City (a strong defensive team), the Lakers continued to struggle offensively. The Thunder held them under a point per possession in three of the six games and to just 102.3 per 100 for the series.

But in the last two rounds, the Lakers' offense has come alive, scoring 119 points per 100 possessions in L.A.'s last 10 games. Of course, the opponents' defense had something to do with it. The Utah Jazz aren't a very good defensive team without a healthy Andrei Kirilenko and the Phoenix Suns aren't a very good defensive team, period.

The offensive improvement starts with Kobe Bryant. Bryant shot 45.6 percent in the regular season and just 40.8 percent in the first round. But in the West semis and finals, he shot 52.2 percent.

2. Next challenge for Celtics' defense

The Celtics were excellent defensively in the regular season, but not quite on the level as they were in the previous two seasons, ranking fifth by allowing 101.1 points per 100 possessions. Not surprisingly, they've been able to increase the defensive intensity in the playoffs, allowing just 98.3.

Miami was not a very good offensive team, but both Cleveland and Orlando were ranked in the top five offensively in the regular season. The Celtics held the Cavs and Magic to a little over a point per possession. That's great defense beating great offense.

With the Lakers' offense peaking at exactly the right time, the Celtics will have to do it again to raise banner No. 18.

While the Lakers' offense vs. the Celtics' defense is certainly a strength-vs.-strength matchup, there are several more examples of the same when you break down the numbers further.

3. Strength vs. strength, Part I

The Celtics have been the best 3-point shooting team of the postseason, connecting on 38.4 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. That's an increase of 3.6 percent from their regular-season percentage and just a hair better than Phoenix shot in the first three rounds.

After shooting 41.7 percent in the first two rounds, the Suns were held to just 32.9 percent against the Lakers. L.A. was the best team in defending 3-pointers in the regular season, and has been third-best in the playoffs, allowing opponents to shoot just 32.5 percent.

4. Strength vs. strength, Part II

As always, turnovers will be key in this series. In the teams' 12 meetings in the last three seasons, the team with fewer turnovers is 8-2 (they've had an equal amount twice).

Forcing turnovers is the Celtics' biggest defensive strength. They've forced at least 15 in 11 of their 17 postseason games and lead all playoff teams by forcing 17.7 per 100 possessions. But the Lakers are one of the best teams in the league at taking care of the ball. They've committed 15 or more turnovers in just four of their 16 postseason games, and have committed fewer than 10 in five.

The Celtics don't take care of the ball very well. They've committed 15 turnovers per 100 possessions in the playoffs, but the Lakers aren't that great at forcing turnovers (12.7).

5. Strength vs. strength, Part III

The Lakers have used their huge frontline to become the best offensive rebounding team in the playoffs, grabbing more than 30 percent of available offensive boards. Meanwhile, the Celtics have been the second-best defensive rebounding team, allowing opponents to grab just 23 percent. Since they traded for Pau Gasol in 2008, the Lakers have averaged 11.7 offensive rebounds per game against the other 28 teams, but just 8.8 against the Celtics.

On the other end of the floor you have a bad offensive rebounding team (the Celtics, who rank last in these playoffs grabbing just 22 percent) vs. a bad defensive rebounding team (the Lakers, who rank 13th, allowing their opponents to grab 28 percent).

6. Boston's focal point

After shooting 12-for-33 through the first five games of the 2008 Finals, Rajon Rondo finished the series with a bang. He put up 21 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and six steals as the Celtics closed out the Finals in Game 6.

Rondo clearly has a matchup advantage against Derek Fisher, and we'll certainly see Kobe Bryant guard him at times. And if the last two seasons are any indication, the ball will be in his hands more than usual. In the four regular-season games against the Lakers since the '08 Finals, Rondo has averaged 15 shots and 11.8 assists.

In 161 regular-season games over the last two seasons, Rondo attempted at least 16 shots and dished out at least 11 assists eight times. Three of those eight games were against the Lakers.

7. Handling The Truth

Paul Pierce had a big offensive series (24.3 points per game, 51 percent shooting) against Orlando. He's also been the Celtics' leading scorer (20.9 points per game) in 12 games against the Lakers over the last three seasons. But he'll find it tougher to score against Ron Artest in the Finals. With Artest playing in the Western Conference for the last 4 seasons, the two small forwards haven't seen much of each other.

In the six games they've faced off over the last three seasons, Pierce's numbers are a bit of a mixed bag. He's averaged 17.8 points and made more than six trips to the line per game, but he's shot just 40.8 percent and averaged 3.2 turnovers.

8. There's no place like home ... in the Finals

Home-court advantage is big when East meets West. The team with the first two games at home has won 19 of the 25 Finals since the NBA switched to the 2-3-2 format in 1985. But the Celtics have already beat the Cavs and Magic as the road team, and they have as many road wins (five) in this postseason as they had in the previous two postseasons combined, when they were just 5-13 away from TD Garden.

The Celtics are 7-2 at home and 5-3 on the road thus far in these playoffs. They've been better defensively at home, but better offensively on the road, where they've shot 48 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range. At the Garden, they've shot 45 percent from the field and 37 percent from 3-point range.

The Lakers are 8-0 at Staples Center in the playoffs, shooting 49 percent from the field. It's critical that they be 10-0 when the Finals move to Boston next week, because they've been awful defensively on the road in this postseason. They're 4-4 away from Staples, allowing 115.2 points per 100 possessions.

9. Don't expect pretty fourth quarters

These teams play their best at different times of the game. The Lakers have been getting out to strong starts in the postseason, outscoring their opponent in 12 of their 16 first quarters and winning the first period by an average of 4.4 points. It's been their best defensive quarter, too. They've held their opponents to just 39 percent shooting and less than a point per possession.

The Celtics have been terrific in the third quarter, which they've won 12 times in 17 games and by an average of 4.6 points. The offense (53 percent shooting, 48 percent from 3-point range) has been the key. Kevin Garnett (39-for-62, 63 percent) and Ray Allen (24-for-40 from 3-point range) have been particularly hot in the third.

For both teams, the fourth quarter has been their worst. The Celtics have been outscored by an average of 2.3 points in the fourth, while the Lakers have been outscored by an average of 1.6. The two teams have combined to shoot just 41 percent in the fourth.

10. Watching the clock

Both of the regular season games between the Celtics and Lakers came down to the final shot. So it's noteworthy that the Celtics, thanks to good clock management in the final minute of quarters, have had 10 more possessions than their opponents in the postseason.

That number is based on actual tracking of possessions for each of the Celtics' 17 games. The estimate for possessions shows Boston having eight more possessions than their opponents. The same estimate shows L.A. having four fewer possessions than their opponents.

Keep an eye on the last minute of each quarter. If one of these games comes down to the final possession, clock management earlier in the game could make the difference.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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